On November 10, 1975, the tragic event known as "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" occurred. The story begins in early November, a period marked by unusually warm weather in the Upper Midwest, particularly around the Great Lakes and Upper Michigan. However, a shift in weather patterns was on the horizon.
...Continue the "Edmund Fitzgerald" story below...
As the month progressed, a significant change took place. A ridge of warm high-pressure air that had dominated the region was displaced by Pacific energy coming in from the West Coast. Colder air began to infiltrate the Rockies, and a powerful disturbance from the Gulf of Alaska set the stage for a Colorado low-pressure system to develop on November 8.
At the same time, two prominent ships, the Wilfred Sykes and the Edmund Fitzgerald, were in the midst of their respective journeys. Captain Dudley Paquette of the Sykes was well-informed and cautious about weather conditions, having his crew monitor weather reports and make decisions accordingly. He chose to take a longer route along Lake Superior's Minnesota shore to avoid an expected northeast gale.
On the other hand, Captain Ernest McSorley of the Fitzgerald had a reputation for being in a hurry. As the ship completed its 40th trip, it quickly departed from Superior, Wisconsin, despite the looming storm. Other captains, like Bernie Cooper of the Arthur M. Anderson, made a similar decision to cross the lake. They intended to closely monitor each other's progress in case the storm escalated.
As the night unfolded, the storm intensified and moved northeastward. Severe thunderstorms erupted near its center. The Fitzgerald and the Anderson faced fierce 50-knot northeast winds and mounting waves, particularly on the lee side of Isle Royale. The situation on the Fitzgerald worsened, with water ingress, a loss of radar, and top-side damage.
Meanwhile, on land, the storm's impact was evident with heavy snowfall and treacherous road conditions. The storm center passed near Marquette, with the wind shifting northwest and then west. Captain McSorley decided to seek shelter on Canada's north and east shore, believing it was the safest option. Little did they know that the storm's actual path would expose them to its full fury.
On the ships, crew members witnessed terrifying waves and sounds of steel under immense stress. The Fitzgerald passed by the Anderson, and it became clear that McSorley was determined to reach the relative shelter of Whitefish Bay. However, the storm's peak intensity coincided with their efforts, and the conditions worsened dramatically.
On land, even the National Weather Service encountered challenges launching weather balloons due to the intensifying winds. In the midst of the storm, the Anderson's crew felt the overwhelming power of the waves and the ship's vulnerability.
Ultimately, the Fitzgerald sank without a distress signal or survivors. The tragedy became the subject of Gordon Lightfoot's famous song, memorializing the "Gales of November" and the haunting memory of the ship's final voyage.
Learn key details about the Edmund Fitzgerald:
Ship Specifications: The Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest freighters to sail the Great Lakes. It was 729 feet in length, making it the largest on the lakes at the time, and it had a maximum carrying capacity of over 26,000 tons of iron ore.
Construction: The ship was constructed by the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge, Michigan. It was launched on June 8, 1958.
Ownership: The ship was owned by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and operated by the Oglebay Norton Company. It was often referred to as the "Pride of the American Side" in reference to its superior size and capabilities.
Shipping Route: The primary purpose of the Edmund Fitzgerald was to transport iron ore from mines on Lake Superior to various steel mills and foundries in the Midwest. The ship's route often took it across Lake Superior, which is known for its unpredictable and sometimes treacherous weather conditions.
The Sinking: The most notable and tragic event associated with the Edmund Fitzgerald is its sudden and catastrophic sinking. On November 10, 1975, the ship was caught in a severe storm with hurricane-force winds and massive waves on Lake Superior. The ship lost its radar, and as it attempted to reach Whitefish Bay for shelter, it mysteriously sank without any distress signals or communication with other vessels. All 29 crew members on board lost their lives.
Gordon Lightfoot's Song: The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald became the inspiration for Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot's famous song titled "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The song was released in 1976 and is a haunting and poignant tribute to the ship and its crew.
Investigations and Theories: Several investigations were conducted to determine the cause of the sinking. The prevailing theory is that the ship likely suffered structural failure due to the combination of massive waves, the ship's age, and the stress placed on it by the storm. The ship's rapid descent to the lake's bottom left little time for the crew to respond.
Memorial: The shipwreck site is now a protected underwater archaeological site. The tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald is commemorated at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum located at Whitefish Point in Michigan.
The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains one of the most famous maritime disasters in the Great Lakes, and the ship's story continues to captivate people, especially through the song by Gordon Lightfoot.